Welcome….

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Minnesota is rich in blogs, and rich in alternative media such as The Uptake and Daily Planet.  Is another blog really needed?  Good question!   My main reason for setting it up is to have a place to archive and link to various emails and posts I’ve sent about Minnesota environmental issues. Continue Reading →

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Garbage action alert….

HighTechToilet

Washington and Ramsey counties are planning to spend over $26 million to buy a now-privately-owned garbage grinding facility in Newport, Minnesota.  By making it a publicly owned facility they would be able to use “flow control” to force all the haulers in the two counties to bring their garbage there.  An unregulated monopoly would come into being.  An initial vote is scheduled for Thursday, May 28, 2015.

The ground-up garbage, now called “refuse derived fuel” (RDF), is sent to be incinerated in Red Wing and Mankato in 1940’s coal plants converted to burn garbage in the 1980s.  The two dirty burners have lax, long-expired permits.  They belong to Xcel Energy, now using it’s legendary political clout to keep the scheme going.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg of the misguided schemes of the two counties, operating through a “joint powers board” misleadingly called the “Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Project.” Waste taxes (surcharges) in the two counties are already as high as 70 percent.   County board members have spent the last couple of years hearing presentations from incinerator promoters, attending incinerator-industry meetings, and buying self-fulfilling reports from incineration-promoting consultants such as Foth.  They have fantasies of getting their own incinerator (labeled a “gasifier” to fool citizens), or even a “trash to ethanol” plant.  (Remember the stench from the ethanol-brewing scheme at the old Schmidts Brewery in St. Paul?)

What they have NOT done is significant work towards implementing “Zero Waste” approach being adopted by progressive communities around the world.  They could, but are not, taking the “Ten steps toward a zero waste community” described by Dr. Paul Connett in his book “The Zero Waste Solution–Untrashing the Planet On Community at a Time.” Continue Reading →

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“Legislators and corporate lobbyists meet in secret at Georgia resort”

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WXIA) – The Georgia Legislature has a message for voters: don’t ask us about our meetings with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors.

The 11Alive Investigators tracked lawmakers to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, where we observed state legislators and lobbyists mingling in the hotel bar the night before they gathered in private rooms to decide what new laws would best serve the corporations.

The meetings were part of the Spring Task Force Summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

What is ALEC?
Continue Reading →

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Ask Governor Dayton to veto bad anti-people, pro-pollution bills

The regular session of the Minnesota Legislature has thankfully ended.  Many bad things and few good things happened.  It seems to me that the leadership of the House (Republican) and the Senate (DFL) were generally united against the people.  How did this come about?  A question that needs answering…..and a situation that needs changing.

Some of the worst language was removed or toned down due to lobbying by the Attorney General’s office, Isaac Walton League, Trout Unlimited, Carol Overland, and others.

At this point the only way to (possibly) improve the situation is to convince Governor Dayton to veto bad bills. Continue Reading →

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Why the Minnesota Legislature does not care (much) what you think

Devil[1]This is NOT a photo of Senator Tom Bakk

The title is from press coverage of a paper by Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University.  It’s written in dense political science lingo but the bottom line from the abstract is clear:

“…economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Is the picture different in Minnesota and other states and localities?  Doubtful.

The current session of the MN Legislature is supposed to wind up Monday, May 18th, at midnight.  At least from an environmental perspective, this has been one of the most miserable sessions one can imagine.  Environmental protections are being rolled back left and right, with relatively little public awareness.  Do Minnesotans *want* more pollution in their air and water, and the resulting death and disease?  Do they *want* accelerating climate change?  Not likely, but nobody is asking the people, and only a few are informing the people.

Still, negotiations continue, and will continue at least up to midnight on Monday.  The time is now to call Governor Dayton (651-201-3400), your Senator, and your Representative.  Find their contact info here.   It could be that the best way to reach the Governor is his Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/GovMarkDayton?fref=ts .   Also, contact one of his policy advisors at molly.pederson@state.mn.us, or call, (651-201-3400), or use this email contact form.

Corporate media minimizing public awareness

Example from this weekend:  It is announced that mining interests on the Iron Range are getting one of their key objectives — legislative blocking of enforcement of the Clean Water Act.  Both sides have reason to cover their tracks by calling it a “compromise.”  But it’s not a compromise.  It is a rollover.  Minnesota Public Radio reports it this way “Iron Range legislators, Dayton reach compromise over sulfate standards for wild rice.”  But this is a lie.  An honest lead would say something like “Iron Range legislators prevail, Dayton rolls, Clean Water Act not to be enforced….”  How much does this matter?  By itself, maybe not so much.  The Clean Water Act is rarely enforced in Minnesota.  But considering that MPR misrepresents events as a matter of course, and many people likely regard MPR as a reliable source, the cumulative damage has got to be substantial.   Why?  Darkside interests have worked for a long time to reduce public funding for “public” broadcasting, to make it more dependent on industrial funding.  There are probably few bad actors interests who don’t throw a little money at the “public” broadcasting system in order to buy favorable coverage.

For another take on this, see “Establishment Journalists Pride Themselves on Staying on the Official Rails.”

Now, what about reporting on the Legislature?  People and orgs who lobby, and reporters who depend on sources being cooperative, tend to be economical with truth that might piss people off.  If one lobbies legislators–and I’ve done my share of that–naturally one doesn’t want to annoy them, or to give the impression, however true it might be, that the Legislature is a pay-to-play setup where citizens voices mean little much of the time.   People, likely starting out with the best of intentions, get drawn into the system.  (This is not to say that lobbying isn’t useful.  It is.  But not usually for informing the public.)

Bad examples close to home

“My” two legislators, Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Matt Schmit, get dishonorable mention here, because they treat me with disregard and contempt anyway, so what-do-I-have-to-lose?  Neither, to my recollection, have ever responded to an email, a letter, or a phone call.  Kelly got into office, defeating an incumbent, by bombarding the district with “independent” mailings saying different versions of “She voted to raise your taxes!!!!”  That was bullshit, but he got in with it, and incumbents have so many advantages they are hard to get rid of.  Matt Schmit, Senator, moved into the district to run and got in by defeating another incumbent, John Howe.  Howe was likely one of the few reasonable Republicans left in office.  Neither Schmit nor Kelly are the worst members.

In this session, Kelly, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, has distinguished himself by blocking action to protect Minnesotans from the dangers posed by unit crude oil trains (“bomb trains”) that run through Red Wing, through his district.  Schmidt has been one of the few DFL senators to vote for “dirty water” bills and amendments.  Both have been involved in promoting the City of Red Wing’s garbage incineration scams.  Schmit, in his emails, has been promoting SF 2101, a bill intended to promote more ethanol production and more forest incineration.  It’s the single worst bill I’ve ever seen in Minnesota.  Pathetically, mainstream “enviro” interests are also supporting it. Why?  Do they really think Minnesota needs more ethanol plants?  More polluting “biomass” burners.  Are they insane?

But the most telling thing was to see Kelly and Schmidt appearing side by side at a Town Hall Meeting a few weeks ago.  Dodging, weaving, and bullshitting, Schmidt gabbing and Kelly mostly silent, they didn’t tell the audience anything accurate or useful, and gave observers the impression that the Republicans and the DFL present a united front against the people.  These two, like so many, are political operatives, not representatives.  Of course, not all members of the Legislature are like this, many of both parties do try to represent the best interests of their constituents, and are responsive to communications.

Did you vote for higher utility bills? Most of “your” legislators did.

There are bills to gut regulation of electric utilities–SF 1735 (Marty) and HF 843 (Garofolo).  Attorney General Lori Swanson writes (read the whole letter here):

I am a proponent of strong regulatory oversight for public utilities.  This Office has testified against this bill (as well as telephone deregulation initiatives) in multiple committee hearings in both the state Senate and the House this year. … While my Office can testify in opposition to legislation–as we have repeatedly done here–I do not get to vote on such initiatives….I strongly encourage you to share your views with members of the state legislature.”

I heard three people testify against this: Utility regulatory attorney Carol A. Overland (Legalectric), James Canaday from the AG’s office, and myself.  Most of the funded, lobbying, “environmental” and “energy advocacy” orgs were present, and they were silent.  SILENT!

Only four senators voted against this obscenity:  Bruce D. Anderson, David M. Brown, Julianne E. Ortman, and Dave Thompson.

In the House, HF 843 passed 73 to 56.  The vote is here.

Closing with this action alert from Land Stewardship Project (lightly edited):

We need Governor Mark Dayton to ready his veto pen to stop backroom deals adopted late Saturday night.

The Minnesota Legislature decided that instead of weakening the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board, it will outright ELIMINATE it. This outrageous idea, which was not introduced as a bill or heard previously in any legislative committee, was unveiled late Saturday night and promptly adopted in conference committee in a backroom deal. The Citizens’ Board was established in 1967 with the creation of the MPCA, to ensure the agency serves the public interest and to establish an open and transparent decision making process. It has worked well and is a model the state should be proud of. [Not so.  The Citizens’ Board is 90 percent rubber stamp, but that doesn’t justify getting rid of it.  That ten percent is worth something.]

This effort to eliminate the Citizens’ Board is driven by corporate interests who want to make it more difficult for citizens to have their voices heard. This language is included in the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill, along with many other bad provisions, including a sham buffer strip proposal that puts off addressing the serious issue of agricultural runoff polluting our water. […]

Calls are needed to Governor Dayton at 651-201-3400 or 800-657-3717. The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at midnight on Monday, May 18, so calls must be made immediately. Negotiations are ongoing and around the clock, so make this call after you read this e-mail.

SUGGESTED MESSAGE: “The Agriculture and Environment Budget bill ELIMINATES the MPCA Citizens’ Board. […] This entirely new outrageous proposal was adopted late at night in conference committee. I know officials from the MPCA have made it clear to the Legislature that they oppose this provision, yet the Legislature persisted. The Legislature was fairly warned, and for the good of Minnesota you should veto this bill.”

OK, so it’s noon on Monday and the Legislature has 12 hours to go.  Time to get on the horn…..especially to the Governor.  With the Leg gone to Hell, Dayton’s veto powers are the main hope.  Bills especially needing veto:  SF 2101 (“bioeconomy”), and SF 1735/HF 843 (electric deregulation).

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Our (Their?) Legislature in Action. Should we laugh, or cry, or organize?

Well, the Minnesota Legislature is entering its last week, with a great deal of mischief in the pipeline and not much to feel good about.  Most Minnesotans seem to have little real idea what’s going on and how their interests are threatened.  How would they know?  Who would tell them?  I’m subscribed to the email newsletters of maybe six Senators and Representatives.  Not one tells constituents what’s really going on.

Even a casual visit to the Capital makes painfully clear that most legislators’ primary relationships are with each other, regardless of party, and with lobbyists, not with citizens.

Let’s envision a discussion in a House Committee.  Rep. Jean Wagenius points out that climate change is a serious threat to Minnesota and further  steps need to be taken to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.  She and her colleagues say the Republican plan to roll back energy efficiency and “green” energy quotas is irresponsible. Continue Reading →

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Comment Time: Environmental Justice and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

During the past year or so, the MPCA has held a series of meetings with “Environmental Justice” (“EJ”) “stakeholders.” I’ve attended many but not all of those meetings.  The PCA has also assigned a person full time (Ned Brooks, Ned.Brooks@state.mn.us) to work on developing an Environmental Justice “Framework” for the agency.  My sense is that Mr. Brooks has worked diligently to incorporate views from within and without the MPCA.

The MPCA has developed a draft document that is probably fairly close to what it envisions adopting, and is holding a “stakeholder” meeting tomorrow, May 8th.  the PCA also intends a public comment period of some sort–details not yet sorted out.

So the point of this post is to encourage people to review the document and provide input either through me or directly to Ned Brooks, or to the Commissioner of the MPCA, John Stine (John.Stine@state.mn.us) or otherwise.

A little background:

Continue Reading →

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Update – S.F. 1735 mega-horrible

Carol Overland, veteran utility regulatory attorney, has done an update to my alert including additional contact information and actual wording from the Senate journal with details of the various giveaways included in the Marty bill.  Read on…. Continue Reading →

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ALERT: Marty’s Mega-Horrible Xcel deregulation bill advancing

This may be the last meaningful opportunity to influence S.F. 1735.  Suggestions:

Call/Email Sen. John Marty asking him to WITHDRAW S.F 1735, the Xcel deregulation bill, but act to defend the Community Solar Garden law: (651) 296-5645, jmarty@senate.mn

Contact the members of the Committee on Rules and Administration.  Especially the Chair, Tom Bakk, 651-296-8881.  Ask them NOT to approve S.F. 1735

Ask Attorney General Lori Swanson to stand up for ratepayers and OPPOSE S.F. 1735: (651) 296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787, Attorney.General@ag.state.mn.us. Continue Reading →

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ALERT: Ramsey and Washington County Commissioners need to HEAR FROM YOU

Important vote on May 28th:  Ramsey and Washington County Commissioners need to HEAR FROM YOU

STOP County purchase of the Newport Garbage Grinder

START a serious “zero waste” study

CONTACT INFORMATION for Ramsey/Washington county commissioners is below.  PLEASE call or email them.

Upcoming “Open House” meetings:

Monday, April 27, 2015, Newport City Hall, 596 7th Avenue, Newport
Tuesday, April 28, 2015, Wilder Foundation, 451 Lexington Pkwy N, St. Paul

(both 6:30 to 7:30)

Key Points to Know:

– A “Fact Sheet” (Unfact Sheet?) being distributed by county commissioners and others contains the falsehood that trash is “converted into electricity.” Actually, it’s converted into toxic ash and air pollutants, with a small, incidental yield of energy.

– Most of the money collected by the counties under the guise of “environmental charges” goes to subsidize this incineration rather than to increase recycling.

– Your tax dollars: Over the past 27 years the two counties have spent $227 million subsidizing garbage grinding in Newport.

– The “Resource Recovery” board plans to vote on May 28th to buy the now-privately-owned garbage grinder in Newport.

– Eureka Recycling is pushing back, and has posted a fact sheet entitled “Â Say No to Newport.”

– The only purpose of the Newport Garbage Grinder is to “process” wastes for incineration, so buying it could commit us to burning long into the future. Continue Reading →

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Eureka Recycling speaks out against Washington/Ramsey county Minnesota, incineration scheme

[Note:  Originally published in the Villager newpaper –content not online– on April 22, 2015.0  Scan of original article here.]

Up in smoke: To burn garbage or prevent waste

By Tim Brownell and Bryan Ukena

Eureka Recycling has been tracking the discussions of the Ranset/Washington Counties Resource Recovery Authority [note:  officially called “project” not “authority”] regarding the potential purchase of the Newport Waste Processing Facility.  The Resource Recovery Authority’s approach is troubling to many of the residents of these two counties, as it is to us, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to demonstrate that waste is completely preventable. Continue Reading →

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